Friday, March 23, 2007

I'm fielding requests from friends for my personal favorites and recommends in Paris and Rome. Spring brings busy travel schedules for the lucky. One thing that I detest in a waiter is this:

me: what's do you think is the best thing on the menu?

he/she: depends on what you like.

me: steely gaze. silence.

he/she: if you like fish, or beef, or.....

me: wide eyed stare.

he/she: it just depends on what you like. what the best is.

me: silence

he/she: we have a lot of great things on the menu!

me: (very quietly) what is your personal favorite?
what do you like on this menu?

I think the ideal travel adventure, anywhere, centers around your interests. In both these cases, Rome and Paris, I would ask, do you like history? art? architecture? food? fashion? shopping? music? other?

And the answers to those questions are found in the best of any city. What to see in Paris and Rome? It's all there. Depends on what matters to you.

he/she: (shifting nervously to other foot) (putting pen and pad at side) well ME personally you wanna know what I like right? yeah okay, I think the ribs are the best thing here and for the appetizers, I like....

So. Here it is with no apologies. Take your pick. Paris: the perfect day in Paris is spent at Les Halles, wandering around the markets and culinary arts stores. Duthilleul & Minart on Rue de Turbigo is an institution in Paris for commercial cooking clothes and apparently has been for generations. Really interesting place. Next: the Marais for the museum of Paris, Hotel et Musee Carnavalet. So much of French Revolution remains in Paris. You can see where they ripped off pieces of sculpture from walls of Notre Dame in a complete fury. This museum tells you the story. The Bastille no longer stands. This museum tell you why. It's utterly fascinating and gives you the 411 on Paris, then and now. Stop in at Josephine Vannier on your way over to St Paul-St Louis. Mme. Vannier makes chocolate. She always has something that's Valentine's or fall harvest or for whatever the season is. If I hated chocolate, I'd still go. She's an artist. It' a gallery. I love it. St Paul-St Louis is the Parisian Il Jesu and looks very much like the real Il Jesu. For me, it's a don't miss. I have never been to Paris without stopping in here. The love the feel of the parish life in this church.

I love a stroll up St-Honore. The stores. The French White House. The American Embassy. LOVE IT.

Catch Blvd de Sebastopol back over the bridge to Ste-Chapelle. This church, this ~* is really hard to me to explain. If there was one and one only place I would go in Paris, it would be here. The most astounding thing in all of Paris. Maybe France. You can spend 3 hours there, slack jawed. I am fairly sophsticated when it comes to churches and museums but this place still leaves me speechless. And then you know what? as you are going on the door, utterly exhausted, wholely, deeply, seriously overstimulated, there is just one little thing or deal that puts you into yet another involuntary gasp and leaves your mouth wide open. If I remember, this costs in excess of 10E, which will put it just south of 15$. I would pay. And if given a choice between here and the Louvre, I'd go here.

Keep going on the same bridge you came in on and go over to St-Germain to the Abbaye de Cluney. As you hit the Boulevard after crossing the bridge, you turn right towards the Eiffel Tower, Tour Eiffel, and follow it to Blvd St-Michel and turn left. You'll see it. I know I said what I just said above about Ste-Chappelle, but Hotel de Cluny is my favorite place is all of Paris. Enjoy. By now, it's 2 in the morning and you'll be all alone. Only kidding. It's a jam-packed day but you can do it. I do.

I'd go Marais/Les Halles/St-Honore/Ste-Chappelle/Abbaye de Cluney.

Rome. Rome. oh my. Here's the thing about Rome and about any city: you see the most and see the best stuff when you walk. It's quite tempting to take a tour or hire a car, but I'd cab and walk. I would. First, I'd cab up to San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline Hill. This is my favorite in Rome. The chains that bound Peter in his martyrdom are there as is Michelangelo's Moses and the Pope Julius tomb, the Holy Grail of Michangelo's career. Moses is my favorite sculpture in all of Rome. It's spooky, it's energized, it's real. It's real. I love this church. Santa Maria Maggiore is also on the Esquiline hill but unless churches are your die hard passion, I'd skip it and walk down the hill toward the Colosseum. You pass the Forum and I would definitely go in. There is much there, beware. Don't try to absorb and integrate each piece, but rather take it as a whole . You can read about it later--every part of it is documented widely along with much commentary. It's awesome. Head over to the Colosseum. It's become quite the tourist attraction in the last 10 years, to my dismay. I'd still go and I'd still pay. 10? 15? E? It's worth it because you understand how ancient Rome recreated and considering they were the civilized of the civilized, you begin to see things in a new light....

It's midday now and you are foolish indeed if you don't observe the local custom of an extended lunch and perhaps a nap. Many places are closed for several hours during the day. The local customs I would not ignor are honor and respect for the Italian language: look up a few phrases and use them. You will make friends. The Italians love to hear you speak their language. As well, dress. This is the city and the Italians and dress up, buff up and groom people. If you honor them in this manner, they will show you their wildly generous side. Wait and see!

Finally, I don't use public transportation in Rome because of the pick pockets and the Gypsies. I walk everywhere and cab if I have to.

Strolling the piazzas is the most delicious of pasttimes in Rome. Goto the Pantheon, don't miss the Pantheon, and then stroll the Piazza di Sant Ignazio. The Spanish Steps is a beautiful sight, although I like them early in the morning when they are not littered with tourists. Stroll the Piazza del Popolo and cafe, but beware, Rome is sooooo expensive. Don't order water and sip the expresso. It will work out. Never leave a cafe without using the toilet. The public toilets in Italy are... well...I don't use them. The Via Condotti emanates from the Piazza di Spagna and has much of the high end shopping in Rome. Rome is not a good shopping city, by the way.

I love the Campo de' Fiori and highly recommend it. Just strolling around. Head to the Piazza Navona for the most beautiful fountain in all of Rome, Italy maybe: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers. sigh. sigh. sigh. Also, you can drink the water in all the fountains of Rome. It's pure and fresh. Comes from the mountains and hills outide Rome through the aquaducts the Romans built. Unreal.

All the piazzas are lined with churches and museums and shops and cafes. The people watching is second to none. The beautiful, contemplative life style of the Italians is in high evidence here and you are smack dab in one of the most congested, polluted cities in the world. But to me, this is one of the true essences of Rome. I loves me some Piazzas.

You have to see St. Peters and Vatican City. My favorite is to sit at one of the cafes on Via Conciliazione and sip coffee and watch the people. Bellisimo. You will see one of everything. St. Peter's is a mondo tourist experience these days so you can't get there early enough in the morning. I always stay in Vaticano, get over there at 5:30 and walk about and then leave for the day as the tourists bein to arrive at 7 am. I flat leave. When I come about 8 or 9, it is dark and very, very quiet. The Vatican Museum is splendid. You'll need to be there no later than 7 am. Audiences with The Holy See are on Wednesdays in the Piazza but you'll need tickets. The Vatican Museum/ticket office can help you and are terrific on the phone.

I think that stroll out from St Peter's along Via Conciliazione out to Castel Sant'Angelo is absolutely second to none and will situate you perfectly to cross the bridge to the Spanish Steps or the Piazza Navona. I don't do a lot of shopping in Rome so I can't give you my favorites for shopping areas. I just buy what I like, wherever I am. I would not miss the Trevi Fountain. The Pantheon. Il Jesu. I love Trastevere. Ara Pacis.

It will be nice and warm/hot when at this time of year. You should remember to have a shawl to cover your bare shoulders or arms. Short skirts won't get you in. Shorts, neither. Local custom. Beware of lines. Dio Mio, the lines. You are going to have suuuuuch a wonderful time.

Be safe.

The 'Kan EWA


Carla said...

Fabulous! I feel like packing my bags right now. Ahh...

The Fool said...

Wow! If I can ever make it to Paris, then I am taking this itinerary with me. How often do you go to Paris, JBelle. It sounds like home.

And I caught your recommendation of Ste-Chapelle over the Louvre...

...I only think I want to camp at the Louvre, eh? I'll have to take up a pew instead...

Terrific post, JBelle. It certainly sparks a bit of wanderlust. Thanks!

toadman said...

If I had only one day in Paris, you know what I'd do? None of what you mentioned. I'd find a back street, where nobody goes but locals. I'd find a little cafe where nobody but locals go, for breakfast. I'd sit at the counter, if they had one, and order what the person next to me was having.

After that, I'd just walk around the back streets of Paris. Staying away from the popular places. I'd look for the dirt, the grit and the grime. I'd look for the inexpensive flats where real families live. I'd sit in the park with an old guy and listen to him talk.

After that, I'd find another back street cafe, off the main road, where the locals eat, and eat there for lunch. In the lazy afternoon, I'd go down by the river, or somewhere similar, and just laze around and look at the Parisian sky.

As evening approached, I'd find a pub, that only the locals went to. I'd join in whatever they were doing there, eat whatever they were serving there. Maybe a hearty peasant stew or something. I'd drink my fill of the red wine of the common Parisian.

That's what I'd do if I had but one day in Paris. If I had two days, I'd do all of that, plus what you listed as well.

Anonymous said...

Great post, girl!

I must confess, I would definitely opt for the Toadman's plan--more my style. I suppose, as the waiter said, it all depends on what you like, eh?

(note: I can just imagine your face during that restaurant exchange, lol. I don't like being "sold" when dining out, either, and when I ask waitstaff the same question you proposed, I am truly interested in their personal opinion. My exchanges go something like this:

Me: So, which do you like better, the Blackened Salmon with saffron infused confetti rice or the Rosemary encrusted lambchops with potatoes Anna?

Waiter: Well, I've seen them both and everyone seems to be enjoying them...or...oh, lots of folks are ordering the lamb...or...that depends on what you like...or...

Me: Which of these do YOU like better?

Waiter: Oh, I don't eat _____ so I can't say.

Makes me mental.
I like staff that tells you the truth and gives you the inside skinny. They're the ones liable to get the 30+% tip when all is said and done.

Again, excellent travelogue guidelines.
Get fucking published!
Fucking get published!



JBelle said...

PDX Pup aka KFTC aka MDA called from I-5 last night to laugh about seeing this exchange inprint. She claims she's going to post the observers' version of that same exchange. I didn't EVEN get into the 'oh I don't eat lamb' and 'the halibut is just flying out of here tonight'. I don't care what THEY are eating. What do YOU think as you serve it all, see it all. And if I want to be sold I'll go buy a TV. And yeah, if they will get real with me as I sort out the menu, quite likely they'll get 3 bones, as The Chows like to say.

Could you feature the poor waiter that has to deal with Her Holiness and J of The Belle on the same check? They'd be better off for it, living a much more authentic and whole life, right?

JBelle said...

Having said all that, it makes me quite nervous to have my personal faves put in a prominent position. And the Paris/Rome contrast is a perfect case in point. I like to do different things in different cities. The fishing culture which was the origination of Paris is really, really interesting to me. I don't get too far from that river and watch it all day long on an ideal day. The other part about Paris besides the Parisii that fascinates me is the Revolution. So I like to go to all these places to learn more about the Power of the People. It doesn't help that I have read all the books and biographies and think about them as I walk the streets. I love the French and the Parisians: then, now and then. That's past, present and future. No coffee yet today. Rome on the other hand, for me, is a completely different deal. I love Roman history, too. all right, all right, all right. enough. I love all history. all ancients. all texts. anything. i like it. i admit it. i should be boring 18 year olds in a university somewhere. i don't have a sweater, though. or a pair of birkenstocks. So Rome, I just love to literally roam around. I beligerently stride the Jewish ghetto. Did you know that no Pope ever crossed the river into the Jewish Quarter until JP2? The Romans had a completely different relationship with the river, not at all wholesome, and the River Tiber holds nothing for me. I bet it's the only river in the world that I can stand on and say 'nothing. I got nothing'. In Rome, it's the architecture and the business of being Rome that really interests me. It's quite different from other Roman cities and the Italians that are there are different, too.

So, when my friends' children and cousins' co-workers want info on where to go and what to do, I can only think that they could find much better information from anyone anywhere, start with BN travel section. Here they are going to get a decided slant in favor of a personal experience. If I knew particular people were much more interested in ancient history, I would completely recommend skipping Vaticano when in Rome, if it's the season. It is soooo crowded and Rome, The Eternal City, is chock full of antiquities. Vaticano is really special, but crowded, and you can't really see past that frenzy unless you are Catholic so why put yourself through this travel trauma when you could be strolling the piazzas and the Forum?

So I know why I like any given place. It feeds my quirky set of curiosities, which are greedy. Whether the needs of those curiosities sate anothers' appettites is another question. And the thing publishing houses are built upon: what really appeals to most people?

MarmiteToasty said...

WOW WOW JBelle, you have taken me to someplace that aint in me humble abode :) truely wonderful you be with words.....

BUT...... Im also joining Toad in those seedie back streets lol..... ;) Id feel more at home there lol


Anonymous said...

My personal favorite bathroom advice. Scope out the hotels on your daily route. Most hotels have restroom in the lobby area for their guests. They are clean....I just sail in as if I belong there and voila! Before a day of sightseeing, lay off the coffee!

JBelle said...

Wondering, I did laugh and squirm in my chair at your advice. I nip into the same hotels and approach the concierge in only the most friendly of conspiratorial manners. Whether they know I'm their guest or not, whether they care or not, they help me with directions and a bathroom everytime. Ah, the cunning of a determined traveller.

green libertarian said...

Revolutionaries? Look up Sans-Culottes.

I don't care about Paris, or Rome, I want to go to Florence.

Got anything on Florence?